OurSharedShelf campaign inspires Chinese version

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/17 19:28:40

Illustration: Commuters read while taking the subway system in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province on World Book Day (April 23). Photo: IC

Commuters read while taking the subway system in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province on World Book Day (April 23). Photo: IC

Commuters read while taking the subway system in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province on World Book Day (April 23). Photo: IC

Commuters read while taking the subway system in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province on World Book Day (April 23). Photo: IC

A book-sharing event inspired by Harry Potter actress Emma Watson's own efforts in London has seen ordinary citizens and even celebrities leave their favorite books in subway stations throughout China. 

Since starting on Tuesday, the campaign has become an extremely hot topic on Chinese social media.

Two weeks ago, Watson helped hide 100 free copies of Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom around the London Underground, later posting pictures of her work on social media with the hashtag #OurSharedShelf.  

Watson's posts eventually made their way to Chinese social media. As discussion spread, two main thoughts were expressed by many Chinese netizens - the hope that someday such a "sweet" campaign could make its way to China, and the idea that such a campaign would be impossible in the country.

Taking up the challenge

The Fair, a public account on WeChat that advocates reading, decided to take up the challenge.

According to an article published on its WeChat account on Tuesday morning, The Fair, which has more than 1 million followers, decided to try its hand at holding its own version of the campaign after receiving hundreds of appeals to hold a similar activity in China.

After emailing the organizer of the London campaign and getting Watson's permission to use her idea, The Fair kicked off what it calls an "upgraded version" of the campaign on Tuesday. 

The campaign involved more than 100 celebrities, including actors, writers, TV hosts, singers and Internet stars, leaving 10,000 free copies of books throughout subways, airports and taxis in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province. 

In addition, they started a website called "War of Dropping Books" for follow-up activities and to track the books. Volunteer "book-droppers" could also participate in the event by scanning a provided QR code and applying on the website.

"We also received many warnings that these books might get lost during the campaign or that people might not pay attention at all. Maybe this campaign will end in failure, but we're willing to give it a shot," wrote The Fair article announcing the campaign. The article received more than 100,000 views within its first day.

According to another article published by The Fair on Thursday, 40 hours after the launch of the "Dropping Books" campaign, more than 10, 000 copies had been distributed; and apart from the invited celebrities, another 10, 000 applicants dropped off books, while 298 organizations of different natures around China have applied to hold similar events in their own cities.


However, unlike the praise that Watson received for her efforts, Chinese netizens took a decidedly negative tract when it came to the campaign.

"During rush hour in Beijing, it's hard to even stand up, let alone read a book," Chen Zu, a Beijing-based office worker who has studied in the UK, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"Since Beijing has really good Internet in the subways compared to London, why not leave codes for the books that could be scanned by mobile phones instead of huge heavy print books?" Chen asked.

Ma Danmeng, a Shanghai-based bookworm, said that after she read the article she felt it was too commercial.

"I definitely would not read one of these books if I found one. It's obviously just a marketing campaign."

Looking through the several well-known Chinese online forums on media sites such as douban.com and zhihu.com, it's easy to find similar comments casting a chill over the campaign.

According to an article by news site thepaper.cn, criticism toward the campaign can be summarized to five basic points: Chinese people do not have a habit of reading print media in the subway; the crowded nature of China's subway systems; the low quality of the books chosen by the campaign; the "copycat" nature of the campaign  and the feeling that it was all just a "marketing stunt" The Fair was using to advertise itself.

More than marketing

In an interview with thepaper.cn, Zhang Wei, co-founder of The Fair, explained that the purpose of the event was to raise awareness toward reading, but also acknowledged that it benefited from the attention.

"The Fair is a company so we are not able to carry out a purely charitable event [like the organizer in London did], but we are not carrying out an event that is purely for marketing either. We can encourage people to read while also gaining commercial benefits," Zhang said.

Wang Zaixing, another co-founder of The Fair, thought that the idea of leaving books around public transport perfectly fits with the needs of young people who live in modern cities.

"We chose Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou because young people living in these three cities long to read good books, but basically don't have any time to find what to read," Wang told the People's Daily on Tuesday.

As to comments that the books chosen were not all that great, Wang insisted that they were "valuable readings" in line with what The Fair always advocates.

This is not the first campaign to encourage reading that The Fair has held.

Five months ago, The Fair started what it calls "The Fair Library" program. Those who want to participate can pay 129 yuan ($19) to receive four books. If they manage to finish all four in a month's time, they then receive a full refund.

The fair website says that three months after the launch of the program, more than 30,000 participants have finished an average of three books per month.

"Maybe it's useless to try and promote reading nationwide, but compared to the loads of meaningless promotional events that are out there, this one is fairly significant," Bai Ye, a literary critic, told chinanews.com in an interview on Tuesday.

Global Times
Newspaper headline: China's shared shelf

Posted in: BOOKS

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